Opinions & Letters

Column misses the required nuances in conversations around colonial history

 | January 23, 2020
SPIN publisher Brandi Schier

When conversations started around rethinking the idea to name a regional peak after a government surveyor who helped to establish parks in the province, I was heartened to hear that people realized there were likely other, more suitable options based on the traditional, precolonial history of the area. But others defaulted to a more predictable view of the situation. 

In his recent column, Rothenburger asks when did it become controversial to name significant geographic locations after those who helped establish the province? It becomes controversial when people of settler heritage stand up and say “Actually, this just reinforces the colonial structure that is the cause of so many problems in our society. Let’s try something else,” and other people take it as a personal attack on their existence.  

It’s not an attack on the surveyor, his descendants, or anyone of settler heritage in the region. It’s a recognition that much of the work he did, while not individually maliciously conducted, was the result of a government and a system that did dispossess regional Indigenous peoples of thousands of acres of their unceded traditional home. And to name that peak after him in 2020 says that all that was all okay, when we know that it wasn’t. 

Personal responsibility comes into play when we have access to these facts and perspectives, but don’t work to change anything. 

If Canadians are serious about reconciliation, it starts at the community level and that includes local news and editorials. It’s clear from recent media coverage in B.C. that few of us have the learned skills, historical context, or required resources to shift these conversations into a more understanding space. That needs to change. Media play an integral role in public education and we have to own that responsibility when it comes to stories like this in our communities. 

We are all learning, but that’s no longer an excuse not to point out when someone misses the mark in their published opinion and is contributing to ongoing misunderstandings in our communities. 

In SPIN’s office we have named 2020 as the year we work to actively take stock of how our own publication also reinforces these misunderstandings in the area we cover, Skwelkwek’welt, or Sun Peaks. Given the special significance of this alpine area to Secwépemc peoples and the resort’s conflicted history it won’t be easy, but that’s not an excuse to stick with the status quo.